Thai food is all the rage these days and for good reason. It is a balanced, healthy cuisine rooted in a beautiful and elegant culture. There is no reason to be intimidated by dining in Thailand or in a Thai restaurant but knowledge of a few protocols may help diners immerse themselves more deeply in the experience.
The Thai Table Setting
Rule number one, don’t ask for chopsticks. There are exceptions but, in general, chopsticks are not the utensil of choice for a Thai meal. Thai cuisine often infuses elements from other Asian countries and chopsticks are used, from time to time, when a dish is of Chinese origin. Usually, however, the table will be set with a fork and spoon. Rest assured, chopsticks will be offered if they are appropriate. There is no need to ask for them.
The Thai royal family was the first to popularize the use of a fork and spoon when dining. It is now the standard table setting in Thailand and at Thai restaurants around the world. A knife is not provided and should never be needed. Food is chopped into bite sized morsels before it is cooked. Diners never need to cut a thing.
The fork and spoon are not used in the Western method, however. Food is not eaten off the fork. It is considered crass and is the equivalent, in Western dining, of eating off a knife. Instead, the fork is used to push food onto the spoon and it is the spoon that is used to bring food to the mouth.
Serving and Eating Thai Food
Thai food is usually served family-style. Diners typically order a number of dishes, which are placed in the middle of the table, to be shared.
The serving dishes are not passed around and should not be lifted off the table, if it can be avoided. Instead, diners pass their dinner plates and are served by each other. The person who is closest to the Pad Thai is the person who will serve it.
Thai food is crazy delicious, which makes this last custom a tough one to follow. Tempting as it is, don’t clean the plate. In Thailand, generosity is a prized attribute and hosts always ensure that their guests have been provided with enough to eat. It is, therefore, customary to indicate that more than enough food has been provided by leaving a small amount uneaten.
Thai food is a complex cuisine with balanced and sophisticated flavours. It is a culinary adventure and is a lot of fun to explore. Relax and enjoy the meal. Don’t be intimidated but rather, take these tips as a window to a culture that is worth knowing better.